NSW churches rethinking services

Heather McNab
Uniting Church services, and Catholic mass are in doubt in response to the coronavirus crisis

The Uniting Church in NSW has urged its members to stop meeting due to the coronavirus pandemic while Sydney's Catholic archbishop wants churches to remain open but warns mass may have to cease.

Following a meeting of NSW and ACT Uniting Church leaders on Wednesday, general secretary Jane Fry and moderator Simon Hansford wrote to church leaders to "strongly urge" the immediate suspension of worship services.

Rev Fry and Rev Hansford also urged the suspension of all other church activities on-premises and the use of church facilities for members of the public.

"The very strong recommendation is that we should not be meeting in person in any gathering," the pair wrote.

"We have a responsibility towards one another in our community of faith. By keeping distant from one another, not touching physically, not gathering in groups, we lessen the possibility that we pass on the virus to one another."

Rev Fry and Rev Hansford anticipate an imminent government directive to "restrict meeting in groups and require us to cease all gatherings".

Community activities in church facilities such as emergency relief and food banks should operate under clear infection control protocols, they said.

It comes as the Catholic archbishop of Sydney, Reverend Anthony Fisher, revealed he was tested for COVID-19 and put into self-isolation.

"Though happily I tested negative, I know the disruption and anxiety people are experiencing," Archbishop Fisher said in a pastoral letter to the Catholic faithful issued on Wednesday.

Archbishop Fisher asks that as far as possible "churches remain open at this time to signal our continuing availability and as an incentive to private prayer".

Sydney's Catholic churches will limit attendance at masses to 100 people, a statement from the diocese said this week.

However, priests have permission to temporarily increase the number of masses and to conduct multiple Sunday masses where necessary to accommodate the changes.

"In due course the public celebration of mass may have to be suspended," Archbishop Fisher warns in his letter.

Parishioners and clergy who feel unwell or have flu-like symptoms should stay at home.

"Where a priest tests positive for COVID-19 or is required to self-isolate, every effort will be made to find a supply priest to take his place," Archbishop Fisher says.

"In some places the cancellation of masses may be required and/or provision of a Liturgy of the Word with distribution of Holy Communion."